They won’t be happy until every shingled building in Los Angeles is gone. I mean, they’re kind of obsessed with them. They who? Everybody. Both sides of the political spectrum. Social engineers on their path of well-intentioned apocalypse in concert with the developers who play them for useful idiots, that’s who. I honestly don’t care who. Just stop tearing down all the wooden houses already.
The surface lot next to the Adelphia (Leonard A. Cook, 1913), and two adjoining single family homes, is to be built upon with a TOC project developed by the Nemans.
It’s unclear when these two were built; the Assessor doesn’t list build dates and they’re not on DBS, which places them pre-1905. 1521 West 8th is listed as a fine six-room house for rent “to responsible party with references” in November 1902; it is soon occupied by Edward A. Geissler, Vice President of the George J. Bickel Company, who stays through 1906.
Also in the early years of the century, its neighbor 1523 was taking in boarders, and by 1906 you could go to an auction of all their nifty stuff:
Some will argue, but these aren’t that good. Or important. But I want you to remember them. Because soon there won’t be any of them. There will be nothing but eighty-foot boxes with no open space—just like this project—because that’s what y’all voted for with your Measure JJJ, bless your little hearts.
Down on Crenshaw there’s The Liquor Bank, which is my kind of place to make a withdrawal. And appropriately named because it is, in fact, an old bank. Look closely, see the ship on the sign pylon?—that’s the USS Portsmouth, erstwhile symbol of Bank of America. (San Francisco B of A founder Amadeo Giannini was enamored of the Portsmouth, as it had secured his city-by-the-bay for America during the Mexican War.)
This Bank of America was built in 1949 and designed by Raymond Raleigh Shaw AIA, with William D. Coffey, Consulting Structural Engineer. Raymond Shaw is best known for his 1920s designs, like the Pacific Southwest Building and San Joaquin Light & Power, both in Fresno.
Shaw did some number of Bank of America branches; he altered the exterior of the B of A in Beverly Hills on Wilshire in 1948 (although that was subsequently redesigned again in 1963 in New Formalist/Brutalist style by Sidney Eisenshtat—which after being deemed eligible for listing on the National Register, was dutifuly torn down by Metro as part of the subway extension). Here is a 1951 example of a Shaw B of A at 8501 Pico—
Shaw designed banks across the southland through the 1950s, but received his largest commission when he was hired, again using Coffey as engineer, to produce the Corporate Modern Banco Hipotecario in San Salvador in 1958. He retired soon after and died in 1967.
In any event, back to our pal at Crenshaw and Stocker: it’s 1949, and 1949 was smack in the thick of the Great Age of the Late Moderne. Late Moderne was born to Southern California and defines Southern California as well as—no, better than—any other architectural style. What is this Late Moderne, you ask? The sleekness of Streamline, and the ribbon-window rectangularity of International style, melded in the late 30s, and flowered in the mid-40s, to produce a new vernacular. You know it when you see it: warm materials form large simple volumes locked in asymmetrical sculptural compositions, with irregular angles and curves, punctuated by certain ornamental motifs—egg crate sun shades, grills, bezeled windows, tapered and punctured fins, canopies, and of course large sign pylons with bold neon. Well, that’s a lot of words; it’s those buildings what look like this.
The style was short-lived, though, as Modernism went another way and the likes of Lautner and Eames and Armét & Davis began to explore the structural expressionism of trusses and cantilevers. Thus every Late Moderne is a treasure, and some are preserved, like Wayne McAllister’s Bob’s Big Boy, while some just hang on, like Stiles Clements’s Windsor Hills Shopping Center, yet some are criminally demolished, like Clements’s Mullen & Bluett.
In any event, Shaw’s bank is not long for this world. Or at least what’s left of it; in all honesty, half of it has already been removed. As you can see, the structure once ran all the way to the corner, but had a chunk of its front removed in September 1976 when it became a liquor store, and Liquor Bank hired Van Nuys architect Andrew F. Gutt to design a new facade.
What I find additionally sad about losing this cool pylon-sign is that it’s just down the street from one of the great pylon-signs in all Los Angeles, the 1947 Albert B. Gardner/Edward W. Carter-designed Broadway Department Store, which has the greatest Moderne façade that ever was. Read more about the Crenshaw Broadway here and here. Fortunately, the Broadway and A. C. Martin’s May Company are being worked into the mall’s current redevelopment (ten-story office tower; eight-story, 400-room hotel; thousand condos and apartments; the whole bit). If Capri Capital can work those historic buildings into their mall redevelopment, maybe developer Axiom will incorporate the Liquor Bank!
Uh, probably not. Let’s take a look at another one of Axiom’s projects, just up the road at 3831 Stocker. This was a hospital built by Lester M. Morrison in 1953, using architects Riener C. Nielsen and Gene E. Moffatt. Axiom has razed everything and it’s to be 127 market rate units (or so says their website; according to this, though, they’re only allowed 74 units even with the density bonus).
Postscript—if you dig Late Moderne and want to learn more, no, there isn’t a book about it, and yes, there should be. Best I can do is point you to here where you may read about Late Moderne in general (pp. 36-37) and the great Rowland Crawford in particular (pp. 43-46; see accompanying images on pp. 70-81.) More importantly, there is a book that discusses Late Moderne, and better yet, in relationship to its rarely-studied expression in residential construction. I can’t recommend it enough, and you should buy it now.
Here’s something that came over the transom, not in the form of some Planning Department notice, but via social media. The properties in question are three apartment buildings at 4629-4651 West Maubert Avenue:
Five matching sets of flats, 4613-4615 W. Maubert, were designed and built in the spring of 1920 by developers Wright & Hogan.
Ben O. L. Wright was a tireless promoter of East Hollywood. In 1920, he was 31 years old, and living with his wife, daughter, mother and brother in the home he designed and built in 1919, a few blocks north at 4626 Melbourne (demolished for a parking lot in 1969).
For example, we all know our beloved Vista was designed by Lewis A. Smith, and run by Bard (being Lou Bard’s Hollywood before its renaming to the Vista in 1928), but do you know whom we actually have to thank for it? Wright & Hogan, that’s who.
But back to our Wright & Hogan flats on Maubert. The other day this popped up:
STEALTH ATTACK ON LOS FELIZ?
LAST MINUTE ADDITION OF MAUBERT PROJECT TO COMMITTEE AGENDA RAISES QUESTIONS.
Late last week an additonal item was placed on the Planning & Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee agenda. The PLUM Committee will review a report related to the project proposed for the 4600 block of Maubert at the southern edge of Los Feliz, near Barnsdall Park. The proposed project is an 8-story residential structure containing 153 dwelling units. The PLUM agenda says that the new building will set aside 17 units for Extremely Low Income Households, but it doesn’t mention that demolishing the existing structures will erase 14 rent-stabilized units. In other words, there will only be a net gain of 3 units that will be accessible to Low Income households. The City wants you to believe it’s trying to address LA’s housing crisis, but the only people City Hall is really interested in housing are the folks who make six figures or more.
This could be bad news for Los Feliz. As a TOC project, this is already on the fast track, and the fact that PLUM is considering making it a Sustainable Communities (SC) project means they want a quick and superficial environmental review process. Like many of the homes in the Los Feliz area, the buildings to be demolished are nearly 100 years old and potentially historic. The fact that this was slipped onto the PLUM agenda during a holiday week when many people will be out of town could indicate that the City is trying to avoid public scrutiny. Will this be their strategy for other projects in the area?
With the City’s tangled approval process, it’s hard to say where this project stands right now, but if you’re bothered by all of this, you could send an e-mail to City Hall to let them know you’re concerned. Among the areas of concern are….
> Net gain of only 3 units accessible to Low Income households.
> No notification has been sent to the surrounding community or the neighborhood council.
> Loss of potentially historic buildings.
Please use the following subject line:
4629-4651 Maubert Ave., Case Nos. DIR-2019-3760-TOC-SPP-SPR, VTT-82654
Send your e-mail to:
Kevin Keller, Deputy Director of Planning
And please copy:
And if you’re wondering what, exactly, the developer intends to do, it is this:
And from this post came a flurry of shocked responses. But more than that. Informed responses. Good to see the neighborhood folk on social media having, or gaining, a good working knowledge of the forces at work in their neighborhood. The same folk who voted for JJJ out of the goodness of their hearts. They’re seeing TOC turn their neighborhood into a developer’s paradise not because it will do any good for the poor, but because it ups the tax base for City. Their neighborhoods are marketed as “TOC Development Opportunity!” meaning zoning goes out the window: no green space, no setbacks, no parking, increase the height, increase the units—and to hell with community input, design review, neighborhood councils—and the Planning Commission says their hands are tied because of JJJ.
And of course, people are writing emails, and reporting that they’re being bounced back with notices that their reps are out out of town/out of touch for the holidays.
Don’t let that stop you. Make twice the calls, write thrice the emails.
I’m kind of digging this social media thing now. Makes me wonder, had the pensioners of Bunker Hill been so supplied back in 1956, as City Council was considering the redevelopment project, if things could have gone another way.
This seven-room, 1,840sf Craftsman bungalow was built in the spring of 1912, in the Country Club Park tract, by the contracting team of Peter J. Schulte & William J. Wisler. Wisler was the owner.
There are precious few Craftsmans left in this part of the world; they’ve been nearly exterminated east of Wilton. It is especially noteworthy to find one that has not been stuccoed, windows changed out, porches enclosed, etc.
Look closely at the expressive use of brick in on the chimney and porch.
Then, one day, she is put up for sale:
Interestingly, when 933 was listed, they stated “it can be demolished to create 8 to 9 new condo or apartment units”—
It should surprise no-one here that they intend to build twice that:
Sixty-seven feet? Nearest thing that tall is a half-mile north on Wilshire.
I get it. We have private property rights. If I have the money to outbid a museum to buy a Tintoretto or an Edward Hopper, and then go home and toss it in the fireplace, more power to me. If there’s a grove of old-growth trees, some sylvan forest producing shade and oxegyn, where children have froliced in the bucolic glades for generations, I’ll buy it and clearcut it and leave the slash piles to rot because I can. I won’t, mind you, but I can, for we are endowed by our Creator with all sorts of inalienable rights, codified by the Bill of Rights, among which lives freedom of speech, which I’m going to use here and now to say that Mr. Reuven Gradon is a moral leper.
It’s not so much Gradon bought a great house and tore it down. Rather, that he deceived the owners to do so. He procured the house through trickery and deceit for no other reason than to demolish it.
361 North Citrus, by Henry Knauer & Clarence Smale, was built in 1927 as an Architect’s Show Home, that is, a design showcase example, at the southwest corner of Citrus and Oakwood in Hancock Park. There she lived peacefully and was purchased about 2010 by the Coles, who restored the girl, up to and including new piping, wiring, and a full seismic retrofit.
After being in the house about a decade, it was time to sell; they listed on July 18th, 2019, and the offers came in. Many were over asking. One came on July 29th, with this letter:
Now that just drips with sincerity. They’re going to deepen their roots in this, the home of their dreams. They’re going to fill it with joy and heart. Hell, even the three-year-old loves the house.
As one Curbed commenter pointed out, Cole may have rejected a higher offer because of this letter, and may also have accepted Gradon’s offer because it was without contingencies, like inspection and repairs—specifically because, unbeknownst to Cole, Gradon intended to demolish the house and didn’t care about such things. (Though most of the Curbed commentariat, of course, went on about how opposing historic demolitions meant you were a loathsome boomer NIMBY).
In any event, the Coles sold the house to Gradon. This is Reuven Gradon:
The house went into escrow on August 5th, 2019 and Gradon closed sale/took ownership September 18th. He got his demo permit on October 18th only because he stated, via the legal stipulation, that he had physically posted notice on the house about its impending demolition, thirty days prior, on September 18th:
Gradon is awarded his demolition permit on October 18th. Problem is, according to neighborhood residents, Gradon never did, in fact, post any such notice thirty days prior:
Moreover, LADBS would not have issued the demolition permit without approved plans for the new building in hand, further indication Gradon always intended to demolish and rebuild. (Besides, as a developer, how is it possible he bought a house without realizing it wouldn’t suit his needs?)
Here’s another wrinkle—so to recap—Gradon goes into escrow August 5th and supposedly discovers during the ensuing 45-day-period that the house, I dunno, doesn’t have enough character, so on the morning he is handed the keys to the front door, September 18th, he heads down to good ol’ 201 North Figueroa and files to demolish, thus, he will get his demolition permit issued October 18th. Which he does. The Department of Building and Safety fails to and doesnot, despite theirown law, send written notice “at least thirty days prior” to the three abutting property owners. Again, nor does Gradon post public notice per the law. Rather, after thirty days of quiet ownership of 361 it’s October 18th and DBS issues him his demolition permit. Conveniently, it’s a Friday, and shocked residents find out bulldozers are firing up and their calls to the City ring off the wall. Some say Gradon did put the demo signage up on October 18th (though neighbors dispute he did even this)—but behind some shrubbery inside his dining room window, so it’s a moot point, as that’s both a month too late and in contradiction of LADBS order to post in a “conspicuous place.”
One way or another the neighborhood gets wind of his plan and Saturday morning, social media is doing its thing:
But it’s too late, the work week begins Monday and by lunchtime Wednesday the house is gone. Everything, all the hand-carved woodwork, the vintage tile, the antique fixtures, even the mature fruit trees, nothing is salvaged: it’s all torn asunder and dumpstered as a great big extra fuck you.
Allow me then to collect (via the Redfin listing) and display some images—
I asked Brian Kaiser, one of the foremost authorities on 1920s Southern California tile, and an expert in tile restoration, preservation and salvage, about this one. In an email exchange Kaiser said:
The fireplace is (WAS) quite special. A deluxe, deluxe example. The Terra Cotta mantel is one of the most elaborate and detailed that he made. I have never seen it before. The mantel was the most expensive part of the fireplace. There were many “Grades” of mantels. The beautiful, very detailed Pilasters, are rarely seen. They are also very special. The corbels above them are very large and also rare. The spandrels are also very, very nice. The hearth has a “Curb”. It helps stop ashes from coming out into the living room. Probably based on an actual English fireplace from the Middle Ages. A very impressive, and classy design. A terrible, terrible, tragedy that it was not saved. I could have had it out in 3-4 days.
Now let’s discuss these bathrooms:
I spoke with Max Solomon, head of the Los Angeles design and restoration firm Augustus Interiors. He said that given the watercolor style and coloring, the tile work was in all likelihood H & R Johnson, an English manufacturer favored during the interbellum years in the most high-end homes. The use of the tony, trend-setting maker stands to reason further, Solomon asserts, since “they wouldn’t skimp on a showcase house, plus the H & R Johnson showroom was located nearby; moreover the house was Tudor, so an English tile maker would be all the more appropriate.”
And so the house and all its charm and memories are gone. All that’s left is this letter to the editor from the Coles:
…and a lesson to the people of Los Angeles. Perhaps, if there is a silver lining, it’s that this lesson may enrage and engage some folk, and call them to action; posts like this one
use terms like mark my words—this will not happen again—enough is enough.
Postscript—but gosh, maybe I’m being too hard on Mr. Gradon. According to this, Reuven and wife Shevy “are going to build something much more beautiful.” I’d be happy to look over the plans you had in hand weeks ago at DBS and critique them sir, and if I’m wrong about all this, I’ll eat my words. Of course you’ll be spending thrice what you paid to match that level of materials and craftsmanship, but I certainly respect that choice. Here’s to the new 361!
These three little contiguous flats were built by W. P. Short in the fall of ’48. The house in back was constructed in 1954.
The continued abhorrence of anything lo-slung and lo-density requires these be replaced with, as you might imagine, vastly increased height and density, and because density proponents will tell you this is “green,” there’s also a massive reduction in green space.
This two-story six-unit apartment building was designed by engineer J. Doherty in the spring of 1962, and will be gone soon, which is a shame, as there aren’t a whole lot left in area that reek so of 1962.
They’re building four stories but only adding two units? Must be some capacious apartments.
She needs a little love, but don’t we all? Like my aunt Gladys, nothing a coat of paint can’t fix. Plus she hasn’t been stuccoed, the windows are original, and the porch hasn’t been enclosed. And dig those dramatic gables. Bonus factoid: First Lieutenant Dale C. Tipton, when released from a Nazi POW camp in June of ’45, well, this is the house he came home to.
Though she’s to be torn down for an apartment building, remarkably, the developers are not going TOC with a five-story, forty-some unit structure.
Not that I don’t love scribbling the overwrought vitriolic screed but the problem is those things take time. And the problem is, I’ve got this other architectural/ social history to write, and a publisher who’s after me to finish it, so it behooves me to spend my time making that deadline.
The content of this blog will therefore streamline some—as in, instead of the usual lengthy discourse, with its links and pretty pictures and meandering diatribes, I’ll post a building, its architect when I can, and what’s to become of it, short and sweet. I wanted to point this out so that you didn’t think I was just slacking off, or didn’t love you anymore.
The good/bad news, then, is I should be posting with greater regularity. Besides, you probably already know where I stand on the subjects of density and TOC and the Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance (and I haven’t even talked about the Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance).
And then when my book is finished we’ll be back to our usual rancorous broadsides against the moral lepers who would have Los Angeles become some super-regulated version of Kowloon City.